Microsoft has launched a web-based service, Live Mesh, that it said would allow users to share data folders across different PCs and devices.

Live Mesh is both a development platform and a folder-sharing and synchronising service for end users, said Amit Mital, general manager of Live Mesh. From a web-based Live Desktop, users can set devices or PCs to have access to different folders stored both on the devices and on the web.

Using the desktop, users can set preferences for what machines or devices they want to make "a part of the mesh," Mital said. Once they set a preference, software will be downloaded to that machine or device to activate it on the mesh.

Once a device or PC is activated, users can set what folders from that machine they want to be stored online. If they update folder content in Live Mesh, devices and PCs on the mesh will be updated with the changes the next time they are connected to the web. Similarly, if information is changed locally on the device, then once the device goes online again, folders will be synchronized across devices on the entire mesh.

"The whole idea, from an experience perspective, is you still have access to documents online and offline, and we take care of the changes," Mital said.

Users also can access and control any devices within their mesh through Live Remote Desktop, a feature of Live Mesh built on the capabilities of Windows Remote Desktop. For example, users can gain access to their home PCs from any computer by logging on to Live Mesh. In addition to letting users set Live Mesh preferences for their own devices, people also can use the service as a collaboration tool, allowing people in their trusted network to access certain folders or files stored on their personal Live Mesh service.

Microsoft envisagesMesh as not only a helpful service to end users, but also a way developers can quickly build applications to enhance the experience of sharing and synchronizing files among devices, Mital said. As an example, Mital said an application built on the platform could allow users to establish a central storage place for data that they upload on various Web sites, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie first introduced the idea of a mesh that could connect devices, entertainment, business and development at the company's MIX 08 conference in Vegas in March.

Microsoft is giving 10,000 users access to the Live Mesh preview by invitation, through a Windows Live ID. Initially, the service will be available only for PCs or laptops running Windows XP or Vista; in a few months, Microsoft will make Live Mesh available for Mac users and also mobile devices, beginning with the Windows Mobile platform. Eventually, devices such as the Zune, Xbox and digital photo frames could also be part of Live Mesh.

Nancy Gohring in Seattle contributed to this report.